Smooth newt (Triturus vulgaris)

Also known as: Common newt
GenusTriturus (1)
SizeAdult length: up to 10 cm (2)

The smooth newt is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1). The smooth newt is protected in Britain under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) with respect to sale only (2). Listed under Annex III of the Bern Convention (3).

The smooth or common newt (Triturus vulgaris) is Britain's most widespread newt (4). Both males and females have greenish-brown upperparts, with a whitish belly and cheeks and an orange streak on the belly, which is more pronounced in males (5). The body is covered in black spots, which are larger and more obvious in males than females. Furthermore, during the breeding season males develop an impressive crest that extends from the head to the tail, as well as flaps of skin on the toes. In general, females are much more dull in colour and patterning than males (5). The smooth newt is often confused with palmate newts; the presence of spots on the whitish throat provides a sure-fire way of distinguishing a smooth newt from a palmate newt (which never have spots on the throat), although these spots may be less obvious in females (5). Juveniles are similar in appearance to females (3).

The smooth newt is, with the common frog (Rana temporaria), Britain's most widespread amphibian. It occurs throughout England, Scotland and Wales, but becomes less frequent to the north and west (5). Elsewhere, it is found throughout much of Europe, but absent from northern Scandinavia, parts of Russia and the Ukraine, and most of the southwest including Spain, Portugal, southern France and Italy (4). It is the only newt in Ireland (3). There are thought to be seven subspecies of the smooth newt in Europe, but the nominate race (Triturus vulgaris) occurs in Britain and Ireland (5).

The smooth newt is often found in garden ponds, particularly where there are no fish, but lives in a range of habitats, including ditches and pools with a lot of submerged vegetation (5). Unlike many other amphibians, the habitat surrounding the water body does not seem to be very important (5).

Smooth newts spend most of their lives on land; they overwinter under refuges such as logs or stones, and head for water bodies in spring in order to breed (5). Activity tends to peak at dusk and dawn, and most feeding takes place at night. The diet is composed mainly of aquatic invertebrates when in water, and worms, slugs, snails, beetles and flies on land (4).

Reproduction in the smooth newt is preceded by an elaborate courtship in which the male performs a display that involves him vibrating his tail against his body and occasionally slapping it against his side. If successful, the male will transfer a packet of sperm to the female by depositing it on the substrate; the female then absorbs it into her cloaca (5). Females lay up to 300 eggs between March and June at the rate of three to seven a day; each egg is wrapped individually in leaves (5). After 10 to 20 days, the eggs hatch and the tadpole larvae, which are known as 'efts' and have obvious feathery external gills, begin to swim around after a few days (5). These larvae usually undergo metamorphosis between July and September, and return to breed two to three years later (5).

The smooth newt is not currently threatened.

It is illegal to sell smooth newts under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 (2).

For more on the smooth newt and other amphibians and reptiles of the UK:

For more on amphibians of the world:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2011)
  2. The Herpetological Conservation Trust: Smooth Newt fact sheet (January, 2003)
  3. The Environment Agency (1998) 'Look-up' chart of species and their legal status. Species and Habitats Handbook. The Environment Agency, Bristol.
  4. Amphibia Web - Smooth newt (January, 2003)
  5. Beebee, T & Griffiths, R. (2000) The New Naturalist: Amphibians and reptiles- a natural history of the British herpetofauna. Harper Collins Publishers, London.